Solving marketing challenges for small to mid-sized businesses

Putting the Fizz back into the Fireworks

Since 2013 Awaken Communications has focused its charitable efforts on sport in the local community, principally through the reformulation and repositioning of the annual fireworks event, taking place each year at the cricket club. The event, which has been running for over 50 years now, is a vital contributor to the funds need to maintain a facility which in addition to cricket, plays host to Hockey, Lacrosse, Tennis, Running and a host of kids and fitness camps.

An event in decline

Eight years ago, this event was in decline. Visitor numbers were trending down as the lustre of paying a few quid to stand on a sports field on a cold and quite likely wet evening, was steadily fading. Moreover, most parents had fallen out of love with the adjacent travelling fairground, which rocked up each year to empty the pockets of hard-working parents in return for a few short rides and some hoop throwing where no one ever seemed to win anything. Up the road, a neighbouring village was luring the town’s folk away with the promise of a very similar bonfire night experience, in return for a few coins in the donations bucket. While Tring (on the Herts/Bucks border) was punching above its weight in so many other areas – live music, theatre, comedy, dining out – its firework night was fizzling out like a damp sparkler.

2021 was a sell out

Fast forward 8 years and the Festival of Fire sold out three days before it took place on Saturday November 6th, with an estimated crowd of 4,500 people. Hot on the heels of the pandemic, this outdoors event undoubtedly benefitted from the isolation fuelled pent up demand that many events and activities have seen this autumn. But that’s by no means the whole story. What happened over years that made a 2021 sell out possible? How did we go from fretting over whether enough cash paying people would turn up to cover the cost of the fireworks, to a place where our target revenue was in the bank before the event even took place?

6 key success factors

Here are 6 key contributing factors:

1 – Differentiation
Back in 2013, it was clear the event needed a makeover. It had to be different from the free event up the road. Cue a rebrand: The Tring Festival of Fire was born, with fireworks set to music, live entertainment, food concessions, rides for the kids and the all-important beer tent. The travelling fairground was politely asked not to show up. Not everything worked in year one. In fact, some of the live entertainment was positively awful. We also underestimated the loss of light from the stalls that came with the fair. But the formula was largely a good one. We learned a huge amount and we made improvements the following year.

2 – A team of competent volunteers
In one important way, a successful event is no different from a successful business – you need the right people in the right places. And they need to be able to work together. Someone had to take the lead, create a business plan, identify the tasks that needed doing and find the right people to do them. Some skills were technical – accreditation to let off fireworks for a start. Connecting lights and sound (in the right proportion) was also vital. Others skills were softer, but no less important: the ability to arrange suppliers, negotiate prices, plan layouts, build a bonfire…..and more.  It’s not just about hands in the air…it’s the right hands in the air. Reliable ones.

3 – Pricing strategy
Most people seem to think marketing is largely about pretty pictures and persuasive words. In my experience, getting the pricing strategy right is where the energy should be directed, at least to begin with.

Pricing for events is not easy. You need to ensure that your primary target market sees value in the proposition for the money you are asking them to part with. Too much value and you leave money on the table. Too little and panic will set in as the date approaches and you haven’t sold enough tickets. Early bird pricing is a common and legitimate tactic. Rewarding for early commitment will drive ticket sales among the more price sensitive customers, but the tiering of these discounts and the time frame needs to be carefully thought through. You also need to weigh up the pros and cons of allowing people to pay on the gate, particularly for an event that can be heavily impacted by the weather. In 2021, I believe we finally got it spot on. Although we denied ourselves potentially several thousands of pounds of incremental gate receipts, at the highest price tier, on the day, this will be more than compensated for in the long run. Fear of missing out is one of the most powerful drivers of customer commitment. Proof that customers have missed out in the past, only fuels that fear in the future.

4 – Understanding your core audience
Knowing that young families in a 5-mile radius of Tring is our core audience, has been the driver of many decisions made around the event. Some of these might seem somewhat incidental, but as a collective they help drive up the overall family appeal. This includes what time the gates open, how many toilets there are, what kind of kids rides we have, how these are priced, why we have a guy competition and a sparkler zone, what time the bonfire is lit and when the fireworks go off. Two years into the new format and we realised we needed to solve the problem of tired small legs. The solution was the donation of hay bales from the local farm – perfect for the little ones to sit and watch the display at the front of the crowd. This year we dropped the live music feature. We realised that this simply wasn’t valued enough by our customers for the time, energy, and effort it involved.

5 – Engaging community partners
With all the above in mind, it will come as no surprise that our key partners are the local schools. They do two key things for us: deepen our marketing reach and provide bodies on the ground at the event. All schools are incentivised to promote the event to their client families in September with a simple incentive – a £2 commission on every Early Bird ticket sold online against a unique school code.

The bodies on the ground are vital for crowd management, public reassurance and helping to keep the venue tidy. In addition to volunteers from the cricket club, we are blessed to have over 20 sixth formers from the local school donning high visibility jackets and contributing to the event stewardship. Doing so, earns them credits towards their citizenship studies, while the provision of a valuable car parking facility also enables them to generate funds for the school. It’s a classic example of a WIN WIN.

6 – Embracing technology
In 2014 we decided to make tickets to the Fireworks available for advance online purchase. We generated £218! 7 years later it’s over 20k. Money in the bank in advance of a service being provided is a pretty cool business model. When you are trying to raise much needed funds (and your fixed costs mean that a loss is a possibility), it doesn’t half take the pressure off! There are other notable advantages too: no more of the security concerns that come with handling thousands of pounds in an evening on a sports field. Plus, you capture all the customer details, which means the options for pre-event communication and future event marketing are considerably enhanced. Who would have thought in 2013 that 8 years later we would be scanning in ticket holders using our mobile phones??

It’s been quite a journey. Who knows what the next 8 years will bring? Hopefully we can keep the volunteer band together and it will be onwards and upwards. If we continue to give the customer a great experience, we will be fine.

There will also be some key debating points. I hear some displays now feature a virtual bonfire instead of a real one…. safer and more environmentally friendly. On the other hand…..





December 1, 2021


Nick Wake

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